The Value of One, the Power of Many

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“Those are a lot of garbage bags,” Matt observed early Friday morning, “people are definitely doing a little spring cleaning.” The front of the warehouse, where we store incoming non-food donations, is piled with bagged clothing like stacks of potatoes during the Potato Blitz. We faced a dilemma. With so many donated clothes, we always struggle to distribute them quickly before more arrives. That’s when Wouda, one of our long-term volunteers piped up to say, “It’s great!  I’ve got something to really keep me busy now!”

Although we are primarily a food program, we also accept clothing and other household donations. In the same way that the food we receive must be sorted and repacked, so too must these non-food items be taken out of their bags and put on hangers to be displayed in the lobby. Over ten years ago, when Wouda brought a friend in to collect a hamper, she noticed that the clothing area could use some attention. She has been responding to that need ever since, dedicating her weekday mornings to this cause.

“I just love it. I love all of it,” Wouda giggled as she surveyed the bags of treasures. She explained to me that only a week ago, there were barely any items for the lobby. She kept busy that week working on potatoes instead, but was concerned by the lack of donations that normally fill our waiting area. “Now,” she said smiling, “the donation bin is overflowing!”

Wouda peeks out from behind a few of the garbage bags of clothing we received on Friday.

Things like this happen all the time. Just when we are beginning to wonder if we will run out of size four diapers, the Food Bank tells us they just received a shipment of them. Just when we are starting to frown at the size of our hampers, we receive an unexpected donation of food. The only way we are able to make use of this good fortune is through the power of our volunteers. Wouda isn’t the only one who has to process this mountain of clothing – she is assisted by the many other volunteers who keep this place bustling.

This morning I watch Carola, another one of our volunteers, re-fold everything that was jumbled up in the busyness of Friday. Bill, affectionately known as The Captain, contributes by unpacking bags and sorting items that need to be shelved. Together with Wouda, they organize our lobby so that it is easy to browse. Tomorrow the area will be in a similar state: dishevelled and unorganized as 170 families look through it all. But this doesn’t seem to faze them, because they will be here all week tirelessly doing the same job.

At the same time that they work to maintain the clothing area of our lobby, Rupert re-packs extra bread into smaller bags. When we can, we try to provide bread to patrons who don’t need a full hamper. Supplies have been restricted lately, so Rupert is bagging it all up to be distributed in our hampers instead.

I ask Rupert what is difficult about volunteering, and he responds jokingly, “Getting up and coming here!” It’s true that Rupert is known to enjoy his sleep and is often affectionately teased for his arrival times. But no one forces him to be here, and he makes it clear that he enjoys coming. Full of jokes he says, “It’s a good job for an old retired person like me.” You see, Rupert seems to think he is getting old. But when I find him dancing along to the radio, I know that he is neither old nor unhappy to be here.

I couldn’t capture his dance moves on camera. But here, Rupert bags bread so that our hampers will be fully stocked.

Francis is another volunteer I know is happy to be here. I know this because there isn’t a moment when Francis isn’t either smiling or trying to make someone else smile. This is the part of volunteering that keeps him coming back. “I enjoy getting to work alongside so many different people, and getting to know them.”

See? Francis can’t help but make people laugh.

Francis can be found doing odd jobs all over the warehouse and lobby. In his travels, he has observed something we are happy to hear. “Everyone does things a little bit differently. There is no right way to do something.” This is the key to the community that seems to exist here at Food Hampers. Everyone contributes in a unique way. Martin helps sort and label our Food Bank shipment; Paul packages small items like tea; Steve crops our used food slips so they can be re-used; Bob takes care of the meat; Ed, Devon and Bruce repackage food and stock the shelves. Whether they are completing the same job differently, or doing different jobs, the work of each of these volunteers is important and makes a difference to the service we are able to provide.

Martin shows me his marker and tape, which he will use to label food from the Food Bank.

Paul stops packaging tea for a moment to smile for the camera.

Steve urges me to hurry and take his picture so he can get back to work.

Bob in his meat corner.

Devon is ready to stock the shelves.

If Friday’s excitement was about the abundance of clothing we received, Monday’s is about a very late delivery. Everyone is anxiously anticipating the arrival of a food shipment that is over an hour and a half late. But there is no need to panic. Even—or perhaps especially—with this tardiness, our volunteers are ready to do what they always do: snap into action. We couldn’t manage all of the unknowns without them, and for this we are grateful.

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One Response to “The Value of One, the Power of Many”

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